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The 10 Moments That Define Urban Meyer’s Disastrous Jaguars Tenure

The Jaguars fired Meyer on Thursday, ending one of the worst coaching stints in NFL history. To understand how we got here, let’s go through his low points in Jacksonville—from the bad to the baffling to the truly appalling.

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Urban Meyer’s tenure as an NFL coach began just a few short months ago. I can’t believe it took this long to end. The Jaguars issued a statement on Thursday announcing that they’re parting ways with Meyer after concluding “immediate change is imperative for everyone.” Despite being coach for less than a full season, Meyer accrued more losses (11) in Jacksonville than he did in his seven seasons as the head coach at Ohio State (nine).

I’d love to say I told you so, because I wrote a column in September predicting that Meyer’s NFL career would be a disaster. But I don’t think I deserve much credit. The only person who didn’t realize the Meyer experiment would end in total failure was Jaguars owner Shad Khan. There were countless signs Meyer shouldn’t have landed this job in the first place. At Ohio State, he continued to employ an assistant coach for years despite knowing about multiple accounts of domestic abuse. Then Meyer misled the public about it. He never should have gotten this opportunity over so many coaches who were more deserving.

Meyer, a supposed offensive mastermind, was in charge of the NFL’s worst offense, a unit that ranks 31st in points scored and tied for first in turnovers lost. He also fancies himself a leadership expert: He taught a course on “character and leadership” at Ohio State, and he released a book in 2015 promising “lessons in leadership and life.” But Meyer’s ridiculous behavior, his need for complete control, and his insatiable urge to blame those around him for his own failings clearly made him unfit to lead an NFL team. He should have been fired even if the team didn’t suck. (Which it did.)

Meyer was fired within hours of kicker Josh Lambo’s recent revelation that the coach had kicked him during pregame warmups, but that was far from the only damning incident from his catastrophic tenure. Meyer leapt from scandal to scandal as if he were trying to execute a record-setting Getting Fired Speedrun. It worked: At just 13 games, Meyer had the shortest tenure of any non-interim NFL head coach since Bobby Petrino. And Petrino’s infamous Falcons stint didn’t even end in a firing—the last time a coach was axed this quickly was in 1978, when the 49ers cut ties with Pete McCulley after just nine games.

Maybe it’s tough for you to keep track of all the embarrassing moments from Meyer’s tenure, so we decided to compile a top 10 list here. Some moments are funny, and some are horrifying. Keep this handy in case your favorite college team’s athletic director tries to hire this guy in two years.

Before we get started, here are some moments that just missed the cut: the time Meyer said a rookie safety who just played zero snaps in a game was getting more playing time; the time Meyer accidentally made clear that he was using players’ vaccination status to decide who to cut; and the time Meyer said that he was disappointed signing professional free agents was a different process from recruiting high-schoolers.

10. The “Hang in There” Message

After the Jaguars lost to the Broncos to fall to 0-2, the team posted this message from Meyer on its various social media feeds. It felt like a bit of an overreaction, considering that Jacksonville was expected to lose a lot this season. But Meyer insisted to fans that the Jags would get better.

Spoiler alert: They didn’t.

9. The Surprising Lack of Sneakiness

Early in the season, the Jags repeatedly failed to convert in key situations on fourth-and-short. Facing fourth-and-goal in Week 4 against the Bengals, Jacksonville ran the ball with rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence out of shotgun. He was stopped short of pay dirt:

And facing fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line in Week 5 against the Titans, the Jags called for a Carlos Hyde run. He lost 3 yards:

The answer seemed simple. The quarterback sneak is the most effective short-yardage play in football, and Trevor Lawrence is 6-foot-6 and knows how to move. But after the Titans game, Meyer explained that Lawrence wasn’t ready to run QB sneaks from under center—which came as a surprise to Lawrence, who insisted he was comfortable with them.

Jacksonville’s complete inability to succeed in these junctures felt like a clear coaching problem, both in terms of planning and communication. Instead, Meyer pinned the blame on his rookie franchise quarterback.

8. The Perplexing Preseason

The cracks in Meyer’s Jacksonville tenure started to show before the Jaguars played any real games. That was especially evident when Meyer didn’t seem to understand the nature of the NFL preseason.

Part of this confusion was visible publicly. Meyer complained that his assistant coaches were preventing him from running the Jags’ full game plan in their scrimmages. “Sometimes coaches [say], ‘We can’t show this, we can’t show that,’” Meyer said. “And I’m like ‘Why? Tell me why. Explain to me why.’”

It’s a pretty easy explanation, Urban. These games didn’t count, and it would’ve been a major strategic disadvantage to reveal everything in your playbook during games that didn’t actually matter.

But things were apparently worse behind closed doors. CBS reporter Jason La Canfora reported in September that Meyer became “unhinged way too easily” and didn’t “know how to handle losing, even in the preseason.” Meyer reportedly “called some of [his assistants’] job security into question” over the preseason losses. “You can’t freak out over preseason games and belittle your coaches, on a staff you handpicked, every time things don’t go your way,” a source told La Canfora.

It seems possible—and hilarious—that Meyer may have struggled with the concept because college teams don’t play preseason games.

7. The James Robinson Saga

The 2020 Jaguars had exactly one bright spot: running back James Robinson, an undrafted free agent who came out of nowhere to rush for 1,070 yards in 14 games, breaking the record for yards from scrimmage by an undrafted rookie. But Meyer made it clear that he wasn’t interested in playing Robinson this season, something he reinforced through a series of unusual choices and misleading remarks.

To begin with, the Jaguars used a 2021 first-round draft pick on running back Travis Etienne. Jacksonville had stumbled upon a Pro Bowl–caliber back without using a draft pick—why would they devote a critical resource to replacing that guy while he’s still on the team? But Etienne went down with a season-ending Lisfranc injury in August, so Robinson still entered Week 1 poised to be the team’s primary ball carrier.

Only Meyer gave more touches in the opener to veteran Carlos Hyde—an unspectacular player who has changed NFL teams six times in five years, including making two stops with Jacksonville—than he did to Robinson. As the season rolled along, Robinson disappeared for large swaths of playing time, including in pivotal moments. When asked about why Hyde was on the field instead of Robinson during the aforementioned fourth-and-1 play against the Titans, Meyer responded that he didn’t micromanage the team’s running back rotation—a moment responsible for Meyer’s most iconic I-hate-my-life press conference look with the Jaguars:

In Jacksonville’s Week 13 loss to the Rams, Robinson missed 20 consecutive snaps and received fewer touches than Hyde. Meyer said this was due to injury, which didn’t make sense, because Robinson returned to take some random carries in the final minutes of a 37-7 blowout. When pressed about it, Meyer once again said he “didn’t micromanage,” and told reporters that the decision was made by running backs coach Bernie Parmalee. However, NFL.com reporter Tom Pelissero later reported that Meyer had specifically prevented Parmalee from putting Robinson back in the game. The whole fiasco got to the point where Lawrence said that Robinson has “got to be on the field”—a rookie quarterback openly rebelling against his head coach.

One possible explanation for Hyde’s undeservedly large role on the team: Hyde played for Meyer at Ohio State in 2012 and 2013. Meyer decided to be loyal to a retread from his college days instead of giving the ball to his team’s only routinely efficient offensive player.

6. The Alabama Comment

After the Week 2 loss to Denver, Meyer made an interesting remark to Broncos head coach Vic Fangio: “Every week it’s like playing Alabama in the NFL.”

Meyer said this one week after losing to the damn Houston Texans, who now sit at 2-11. Both in the moment and in retrospect, it comes across as the ultimate college-coach-overmatched-in-the-pros comment. In college, Meyer had rosters full of five-star recruits and spent most weeks beating up on far less talented competition. In the NFL, it’s impossible to build that kind of talent discrepancy, and you can’t schedule games against Mediocre Directional State.

You know that expression about how if you keep running into assholes all day, you’re actually the asshole? The same principle applies here. If every team you play against in the NFL feels like Alabama, it doesn’t mean that there are 31 versions of Alabama. It means that Meyer was coaching the NFL equivalent of Vanderbilt.

5. The Tim Tebow Experiment

All in all, Meyer’s decision to invite his former Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback to Jaguars training camp wasn’t particularly consequential. Tim Tebow played in only one preseason game and was cut quickly thereafter.

According to Pro Football Focus, Tebow was a run blocker on just two of the 16 snaps he played, and here they are. He’s the guy in between the 21 competent players who looks like he’s participating in a dizzy bat race.

Tebow never got into anything resembling a blocking stance, repeatedly spun around, and was thrashed by the few defenders he did touch. At one point, he became so disoriented that he speared his own teammate in the chest. Tebow looked like … well, a 34-year old who hadn’t played football in six years, who had never been asked to block, and who had spent the past five years failing in his attempt to make the majors in baseball. It’s unclear how the Jags staff could have put Tebow through any drill without instantly realizing that he was incapable of doing anything useful.

The fact that Tebow even got a jersey, a locker, and a chance to play in a preseason game was insulting to all the other players trying to make an NFL roster. It was a telltale sign of the unseriousness of Meyer’s tenure.

4. The Time Meyer Got Lost in the Grind

The lasting memory of Meyer’s unserious tenure came in the aftermath of the Jaguars’ September loss in Cincinnati. The coach traveled straight to Columbus, where he was spotted dancing with an anonymous woman in a bar. Maybe a more accurate description would be that Meyer was spotted being danced upon, but he didn’t exactly seem uninterested in the dancing:

The location was Urban Chophouse, a restaurant Meyer owns in Columbus. It features prominent photos of Meyer and his wife, and it serves a $40 cocktail that’s named the Giant Shelleytini after her.

The juicy hook of this story, of course, was the grinding. Meyer explained that this woman had chosen to grind upon him, and he had not chosen to exit. Alas! Who among us has not been besieged by a butt? (Buttsieged?)

But what caught many around the NFL off guard is not so much that Meyer was spending his free time with a woman who was not the namesake of the Giant Shelleytini. It was that Meyer had apparently skipped the team’s flight from Cincinnati to Jacksonville to stay in Ohio. He just peaced out because he was meeting up with family at a bar.

A core aspect of Meyer’s public persona is that losing absolutely wrecks him. Meyer recently said it “eats away at [his] soul.” But here he was, 48 hours after a loss, enjoying a local butt instead of figuring out how to make the team better.

In his half-assed apology for the ass incident, Meyer pointed out that the team understood. He also pointed out that Lawrence had traveled to Las Vegas for his bachelor party in March. This comparison was both totally unfair and totally unwarranted. Yes, Lawrence did enjoy himself with his friends—before the NFL season, before he was a member of the Jaguars, and without embarrassing himself on camera. (TMZ described Lawrence’s bachelor party as “low-key.” If TMZ can’t find a way to sensationalize a celebrity activity, it must have been ridiculously uncontroversial.)

It was a preposterously bad look for the head coach to distract from his unquestionably unprofessional behavior by bringing up the private life of a player who had done nothing wrong—and a reminder that Jacksonville’s 21-year-old quarterback was far more mature than the 57-year-old coach who was supposed to be leading him.

3. The Meeting of Losers

In December, NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero detailed an unusual meeting Meyer held with his assistants. According to Pelissero, Meyer “delivered a biting message that he’s a winner and his assistant coaches are losers,” and individually went around the room asking each to compare their pathetic résumés to his.

This is particularly strange because, well, Meyer had hired these people. Why would a winner hire a staff filled with losers? One of Meyer’s favorite quotes is “Why be around average?”; it’s featured on the website of his other restaurant, Urban Meyer’s Pint House. (This one has two drinks named after Shelley.) But Meyer had apparently chosen to be around subaverage. As it turns out, several of his assistants have won Super Bowls and college football national titles, so his criticism was inaccurate in addition to being totally sociopathic.

Although Meyer denied the report, he also went on an impassioned rant about people who leak things to the press and promised to fire anybody who leaked rumors as soon as he found out who did it. Notably, he did not rant about people making up rumors—he was specifically mad about the leaking, which implies the things that were detailed in the press probably happened. Maybe he shouldn’t have hired such big leaking losers.

2. The Kicking of a Kicker

On Wednesday, former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo revealed that Meyer kicked him in the leg while he was stretching before a preseason game. Lambo was preparing for the game when Meyer came over to say, “Hey, dipshit, make your fucking kicks!” before kicking him in the leg.

Lambo said the kick had some force—he called it a “5 (out of 10).” Lambo elaborated that when he later confronted Meyer about the incident, the coach got mad at Lambo for objecting to the kick and warned him not to speak back to him again. (Meyer, for what it’s worth, said that Lambo’s characterization of the incident is “completely inaccurate, and there are eyewitnesses to refute his account.”)

It’s unclear why Meyer thought kicking Lambo would somehow make Lambo better at kicking—if anything, it brought about the risk of potentially injuring the kicker while he was stretching. Either way, it didn’t work. Lambo is the fourth-most accurate kicker in NFL history and literally made every field goal he attempted last season. This season, he missed every field goal he attempted for the Jaguars (as well as two extra point tries) before Meyer cut him. Clearly, kicking kickers is not a good motivational strategy.

Meyer roughing up one of his players turned out to be the straw that broke the Jaguars’ back. Jacksonville fired Meyer within hours of the Lambo revelation—perhaps because getting physical with a player could be grounds for firing Meyer with cause.

1. The Decision to Hire Chris Doyle

We knew everything we needed to know about Meyer’s Jaguars tenure about a month after he was hired. While filling out his coaching staff, Meyer made the appalling choice to bring in disgraced former Iowa strength-and-conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who had been fired by the Hawkeyes after multiple Black players provided accounts of his racial bias and bullying. Doyle was also responsible for a 2011 incident in which more than a dozen Hawkeyes players developed rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition that’s caused when muscles are severely overworked.

Surely, there are hundreds of capable strength and conditioning coaches in the United States. Meyer chose to hire the one who was fired for accounts of racial abuse and who had hospitalized players because of his brutal and unsafe workouts. Doyle resigned after his addition was met with backlash, but it feels like his hiring was something of a mission statement for Meyer.

Meyer’s Jaguars career began with him bringing in someone who had a history of abusing players; it ended with the news that Meyer had kicked his own kicker. At every point along the way, the message remained the same: Meyer was supposed to be allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted, and the players and coaches who worked for him were supposed to put up with it—even if they were belittled or physically put in harm’s way.

Meyer never expected any pushback. Instead, he was pushed out of a job.